Jon Gruden's presence felt during first practice back with Raiders


Jon Gruden's presence felt during first practice back with Raiders

ALAMEDA – Raiders practices have a soundtrack. Hip-hop typically blared during on-field sessions run by Jack Del Rio, with music designed to sustain intensity.

The backbeat faded once Del Rio left town, but there’s a new sound stimulating work rates.

Jon Gruden’s voice.

That was clear Tuesday afternoon, during his first practice since taking over (a second time) as Raiders head coach. He doesn’t speak nonstop, but can be clearly heard across the field when sending out instructions, critiques or motivational salvos.

Gruden revved up as practice began, just telling his offense how he wants to huddle. It took off from there, but not just with volume. There was substance and purpose, even in a brief window open to the press.

“The energy level he brings is amazing, and somehow he’s consistent with it day in and day out,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “That’s impressive. It’s fun, and I think we’ll feed off of that. That’s part of the reason why we were successful today and our tempo was good. He’s bringing the energy, and it feeds down to us.”

Motivation isn’t the only goal. He’s often testing his charges, as he did to quarterback Derek Carr on Tuesday.

“We tried to give him some audibles and different situations on the very first day,” Gruden said. “He was all over it…Derek didn’t blink.”

Carr has only possessed Gruden’s playbook a few weeks now, but Gruden was testing his field general to see how much he learned and retained.

“He tried to get me, to see if I was listening to him in the meetings,” Carr said. “We had a lot of fun out there. It’s fun to accept his challenge, do well and then wink at him or something like that. We have fun together because we know we have the same goal in mind. We’re putting the ship in the water and then we want to hit this thing running.”

Carr passed with flying colors. Count Gruden among the impressed.

“I got really excited out there. You can have a really creative imagination out there with that guy as your quarterback,” Gruden said. “He can make every throw. The ball comes out fast, and he’s accurate. He’s mobile. He’s sharp. He’s a great leader.”

The first of three minicamp practices was a pop quiz of sorts. He wanted things run at a moderate pace, to see how players reacted under some stress.

Gruden’s volume and intensity wasn’t the only new addition. The Raiders have added to large video boards to the practice field, allowing players to review practice reps right after they happen. Gruden said he took the idea from Jim Harbaugh, who uses video boards at the University Michigan. The Miami Dolphins took them from the Wolverines, and Gruden saw them while broadcasting for ESPN. That’s an example of how Gruden’s recent past shapes how he’ll coach nine years after his previous stint.

It had been a long time since Gruden ran a practice, and the moment, however insignificant in the grand scheme, was not lost on him.

“I came back to coach,” Gruden said. “I’m excited to be here. I take it as a serious responsibility, and the practice field has always been a laboratory for a coach. That’s where we earn our pay. We have to develop this team. We have to learn a lot about them quickly. We have a lot of things to teach, and a lot of areas to improve. It was fun to be out there, but I don’t want to get too deep or philosophical about it. I might start crying.

Laughter followed that last line, which he has used in various forms since his last coaching stint. Gruden was comfortable back in his element, excited to be coaching the Raiders again with his own unique style.

Raiders give Conley green light, Melifonwu 'doesn't look close at all'


Raiders give Conley green light, Melifonwu 'doesn't look close at all'

The Raiders have been cautious with Gareon Conley’s return from shin surgery. The cornerback’s clearance turned from red to yellow earlier in the offseason program, but finally went green in time to start the OTAs.

Last year’s first-round pick was reportedly a first-team cover man during the Raiders first OTA session on Tuesday. It was one of three open to the media.

The Raiders plan for him to be there throughout the regular season, and believe he has the makings of a No. 1 cornerback.

Head coach Jon Gruden has been excited to see the Ohio State product in action, as part of cornerback corps also featuring Rashaan Melvin and Daryl Worley.

“Yeah, it’s great to see Conley out there,” Gruden said after Tuesday’s OTA session. “We’re counting on him. We need him. But to see Rashaan Melvin and Conley and [Daryl] Worley competing is really exciting.

Conley was impressive during his first offseason program, until he hurt his shin during the team’s June 2017 minicamp. Conley barely played after that, with two games action and a handful of limited practices. He had surgery to repair his shin in Nov. 2017, and was eased back into action somewhat.

Conley doesn’t have an injury history save last year’s mishap, and could have a real impact if he remains healthy and continues to progress.

“Conley is special,” Gruden said. “He’s a top pick in this draft for a reason. I think from a confidence standpoint, he needs to get some work in out here.”

The player Oakland selected after Conley last year still hasn’t been cleared to work. Safety Obi Melifonwu wasn’t able to participate in Tuesday’s team drills, the first time this offseason offense and defense can play against each other.

The UConn product missed last season’s first half recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, and then needed hip surgery after the season. He still isn’t ready for a return.

“It doesn’t look close at all,” Gruden said. “I’ll leave it at that. He doesn’t look close, to me, at all.”

Physical issues are problematic for a player looking to earn a role on the team. The team is stocked at safety, with Karl Joseph, Reggie Nelson and Marcus Gilchrist leading the way.

“He doesn’t look ready to roll yet,” Gruden said. “So, I don’t let anybody practice without being able to go physically. He doesn’t look like he’s 100 percent. I haven’t seen much of Obi except in the training room.”


-- Khalil Mack was not present for the start of voluntary OTAs, as expected. The elite edge rusher has missed the entire offseason program to this point, withholding services while waiting for a big-money contract extension the the Raiders have budgeted to give him. 

-- Gruden said receiver Amari Cooper is dealing with a hamstring injury.

-- Left tackle Donald Penn is working his way back from foot surgery, and participated in individual drills on Tuesday. He was held back during team sessions, leaving David Sharpe to take first-team reps at left tackle. Breno Giacomini manned the first-team right tackle spot.

-- Rookies Kolton Miller (left tackle) and Brandon Parker (right tackle) worked with reserve units at this stage. Gruden was impressed with how both players absorbed the offense.

-- Fourth-round cornerback Nick Nelson remains out recovering from meniscus surgery. As previously reported, he’s expected back for training camp.

-- The Raiders are planning to have training camp practices against another team, but Gruden didn’t want to reveal the opponent until arrangements are finalized.

Raiders acquire 2016 second-round QB from Jets

Raiders acquire 2016 second-round QB from Jets

The Raiders added a fourth quarterback to the roster, trading a conditional 2019 seventh-round pick to the New York Jets for Christian Hackenberg.

Jets head coach Todd Bowles announced the transaction during a Tuesday meeting with local media.

Hackenberg joins a quarterback room that already contains starter Derek Carr and reserves EJ Manuel and Connor Cook.

Hackenberg was a second-round draft choice in 2016, but never played a regular-season NFL snap. He dressed for just five games.

He’ll be competing for a roster spot in Oakland, as the Raiders will keep a maximum of three quarterbacks.

The Jets were clearly looking for new signal callers this offseason and got them, signing Teddy Bridgewater in free agency before drafting USC’s Sam Darnold third overall in the NFL draft.

Hackenberg took a thinly veiled shot at the Jets Tuesday morning, questioning why a throwing motion overhauled by private coaches wasn't done earlier by the Jets. He was traded later that day

Hackenberg was taken two rounds before Cook in the 2016 draft – the Raiders traded up to get Cook in the fourth -- and both guys have failed to find footing on an NFL roster. Cook has been the No. 3 quarterback in two professional seasons, save an emergency playoff start in the 2016 season.

Manuel is older, though fared well in limited action last year.

Hackenberg has plenty of arm strength but has struggled with accuracy, and couldn’t secure the Jets’ starting spot that was most always up for grabs.

"I'm 23 and I got a lot of ball ahead of me," Hackenberg said Tuesday per the New York Daily News. "Hell, my career hasn't even started yet. So I'm excited about what the future holds."

News of the trade broke after Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s Tuesday media session, meaning he was not immediately available to comment on the transaction.